In 1993 the U.S. Congress — with broad support by congressional members of both big political parties and much grassroots support across the political spectrum — passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to explicitly protect people’s free exercise of religion. This is especially important for religious minorities.
Example #1: Suppose your employer expects you to work on your holy day. The RFRA supports your effort to exchange that work day for a different day.
Example #2: Suppose your religion expects you to wear something special on your head or grow your beard out, but your employer or some law says you can’t. The RFRA supports your right to wear your religious headgear or grow your beard.
The RFRA worked well until the right wing — right-wing religious entities and right-wing politicians — latched onto it and perverted it totally. They started insisting that the RFRA gives someone to use their personal religion to ATTACK AND OPPRESS OTHER PEOPLE. That was never the RFRA’s intent. This is an abuse of the RFRA, but a number of courts — including the U.S. Supreme Court — have abused the RFRA for cruel purposes.
You have probably heard cases where a business owner who belongs to an anti-gay religion claims a religious right under the RFRA to serve LGBTQ customers.
Likewise, in this era of “corporate personhood” (in which a corporation is considered to be a “person”), several big business corporations have claimed RFRA rights to deny their employees the right to birth control or abortion as part of their medical benefits.
Both of these examples are ABUSES that violate the intent of the RFRA.
Fortunately, some U.S. House and Senate members who support civil rights and the RFRA’s original intent have introduced federal legislation — the “Do No Harm Act” — to legally clarify the RFRA is NOT to be used to discriminate against or harm people.
In the U.S. Senate it has been introduced by Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI).
The House version is sponsored by U.S. Representatives Robert Scott (D-VA) and Joseph Kennedy (D-MA). More than 100 House members have co-sponsored it.
For more information, see the U.S.’s best source of information and advocacy about the separation of church and state (guaranteed by the Constitution’s First Amendment), Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, www.au.org
Americans United relies upon people at local levels to pay attention to what’s going on, alert them to violations of this basic constitutional principle of freedom, and take action when needed.
Questions? I’m concerned about this. Contact me at (360) 491-9093 firstname.lastname@example.org